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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Will You Change About Your Practice?

By Peter DeWitt — July 14, 2013 4 min read
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“Change challenges abound in the educational world and seem as different as chalk and cheese.” Dr. Michael Fullan

Change comes in many forms. Perhaps you’re a district leader that has to begin a new initiative that will take the collective work of all stakeholders in your system. If you’re a building leader looking to change something, it’s a bit smaller scale than the work done at the district level but it takes the same type of collective work of you and many others. Teachers change different aspects to their instructional practices as well and the stakeholders they need buy-in from are their students, and many times, their principal.

Schools have all gone through a great deal of change over the past few years but it’s important to differentiate the change we want and the change we don’t think should happen at all.

Budget cuts have forced schools to change practices, programs and even people. Schools have had to cut programs and lay teachers and administrators off. If they’re lucky, schools have been able to bring some staff back through eligibility lists, but that often brings about change in what those teachers are teaching. Very seldom do they go back to the same grade or even the same building.

The other change that has been forced upon us is through mandates and accountability. Sure, U.S. Secretary Duncan and state education leaders will say that the change is for the better but schools understand that it is further limiting curriculum and streamlining instruction. As much as Secretary Duncan and others will sit back surprised and “say” they don’t know why teachers and leaders are so worried about high stakes testing, we understand they are smart enough to understand that teachers and leaders would shift their main focus as soon as high stakes tests were tied to their evaluations.

After all, federal and state education leaders are responsible for the heavy-handed changes and should understand that every change has an opportunity cost. I guess to them, the opportunity cost is to lose a creative education that doesn’t focus on standardized testing. Unfortunately, at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Elementary Principals (NAESP), Secretary Duncan gave a keynote where he said NCLB and AYP are flawed. As we wait for a new secretary of education to present on why NCLB, AYP and RTTT were flawed, we still have to make changes to our practice, but at least those are changes we want to make.

Being a Change Agent
We don’t want to change for change sake. We should want to change because we are inspired to do something differently. As a personal example, I have teachers who want to change their focus on grading. I handed them Role Reversal (ASCD) by Mark Barnes and asked them what they need from me to go down the road of not focusing on grades but inspiring students through effective feedback.

I want to change our faculty meetings. Teachers deserve better meetings than just the ones where leaders stand at the front and go over a list of dates and events...or even worse...new mandates (yes, I’ve done that). Teachers deserve time to work together with real professional development. They don’t need another consultant who will come in unprepared at the eleventh hour pontificating about something they are really not an expert in. But, I also know that creating a plan is easy, following through is hard when it comes to making these changes for next year.

But...keep in mind, that unless you’re like Shirley Maclaine and believe in the afterlife, this is the only life we have and we don’t have time to sit back. As much as we don’t like the harmful changes that are being forced upon us, we do have control over creating our own goals and changing some of our practices to make us more effective...and I’m not talking the state education version of effective!

Michael Fullan
At the recent NAESP conference in Baltimore I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Fullan present (and meeting him after!). Fullan has written numerous books about change. Just like any good groupie, I purchased Motion Leadership in Action so he could sign it, because in my haste to prepare for the trip I left my numerous Michael Fullan books at home. However, I’m glad I did buy it because it was a perfect read for the short flight home.

We have many opportunities to change. They come flying at us on a daily basis but we quickly have to ponder whether they are good for us or not. Other times we may begin the act of change and decide the approach we thought was great may not work for us at all. In Motion Leadership in Action, Fullan suggests there are three ways we feel about change.

They are:
Snog it (flirt with it) - be interested but not too committed yet.
Marry it - be fully committed, embrace it totally
Avoid it - too ugly, scary, not for you.

As the new school year approaches (don’t worry we still have a lot of summer left!) what will you change about your practices? Will you snog it, marry it or avoid it? At the district or building level will you move toward narrative report cards that are heavy on feedback and light on grading? Or if you’re at the building level will you begin flipping your faculty meetings or parent communication?

There is so much change coming at us but we can’t get lost in the fact that inherently we still have our own goals to change aspects to what we do already. Don’t dig your heels in to all types of change, because the change within your control can lead you to healthier outcomes and a better experience as a teacher or leader.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.